Behind the scenes: The Mouse vs. The Brush

Ever since Sketchpad was introduced to the world in 1961, there has been a rift in some spheres of the art scene between digitally created works and those produced using a more traditional approach. In some ways this divide is embodied in The Mouse vs. The Brush, a collaborative project organised by Urban Retro, which pits a computer-based artist against a traditional artist and lets the viewer draw their own conclusions.

The thinking behind The Mouse vs. The Brush is simple: one artist uses a computer with a software package, while another artist uses paints and brushes to create their work. The results are bundled together and made available on the Urban Retro website as limited-edition print and badge sets.

"I wanted to bring something fresh and different to the art scene," says Tahir Fayyaz, who founded with his sister Saima in March 2006. "There are so many artists using different mediums to create art these days, and one way of differentiating them is to look at the work as traditional art and digital art. I thought it would be fun to have two artists going head to head in a friendly battle."

The first two artists lined up by Fayyaz were UK-based digital wonderkid Ben the Illustrator, aka Ben O'Brien, and paint-soaked New Yorker Lou Pimentel. While O'Brien studied animation and has worked on everything from music videos to children's television, Pimentel ditched his computer and mouse a year ago to strip things back to basics.

Different strokes
"Painting with a brush is so much more exciting for me," says Pimentel, from his Brooklyn base. "I still dabble with the mouse every now and again, but nothing beats getting your hands dirty."

Not surprisingly, O'Brien has a slightly different view on the subject. When Fayyaz first contacted him with a view to contribute to The Mouse vs. The Brush, he jumped at the chance. "It's a great project," he says. "Having a hand-painted piece up against a digitally created piece - it's interesting. I figure it must be great for aspiring young artists to check out the diversities of the whole art scene."

It's this openness to new, interesting ideas and concepts that really makes The Mouse vs. The Brush stand out from the crowd. Not only do the two pieces complement each other, but their blend of styles, the awareness of how each was created, and the outright skill of each artist means that they work brilliantly together within a single collection.

"In the case of myself and Lou, I think it's awesome that Lou's print has the canvas texture still visible along with the brush strokes, whereas mine has a more perfect, clean and flat colour," says O'Brien. "I think both results are excellent, but maybe some people prefer one to the other?"

"I know that when people work on a digital project, they usually start off with a few sketches and then work with many layers to complete the composition," says Pimentel in agreement. "The same process applies to my brush work."

Yet considering how different the two mediums are, the way in which each artist sets about creating their art is remarkably similar, with only the tools each uses to refine their piece differing. If art's about the inspiration, then this project shows just how truly creative computer art is.

A similar approach
"Technically my style comes from drawing first, pencil on paper," says O'Brien. "Then I open up Illustrator, which is almost like my lover, and trace the pencil drawing. After that I just spend ages getting all geeky with the colours."

Pimentel's pieces start off in a similar way, beginning with a sketch on paper before being transferred to canvas. It's only the way in which the work is rendered that divides the approaches. "When I paint I pretty much approach it in the same way as I approach working on a computer," he says. "I like to start off with rough sketches and build up the painting in layers."

With the success of the first The Mouse vs. The Brush, Fayyaz has plans for more artistic head-to-head encounters over the coming months. Interestingly, he also hopes that the project will help to enlighten as many digital art critics out there as possible. "I always thought that artists who created paintings had a greater talent than artists using software such as Illustrator. However, the more and more I have become involved in the art scene, the more I've realised that both types of artists have equally amazing skills and talents," he explains.

Fayyaz believes that true creativity is in the creation, regardless of the techniques used, and both O'Brien and Pimentel seem to agree. While neither plans on swapping their preferred set of tools for the other any time soon, Pimentel can think of at least one advantage that computer-based creativity has over his old-school oil paints and brushes: "If I could only get my brushes to learn how to Ctrl+Z," he says.